Dropping anchor after crossing the gulf brought immediate relief. Not to be safe from my first overnight passage but just relief to be able to finally get some sleep and to have survived without losing my shit at anyone. All the panic and fear I had leaving Horn Island was gone, replaced by sleep deprived annoyance and frustration.
Still to this day the Gulf of Carpentaria has been the roughest waters and conditions I’ve sailed in. Big waves. Sometimes as big as 6 meters (according to Andre). Coming from two different directions. Water moving with the tide coming out of the gulf met with the water at the sea going another way creating a washing machine effect. Short confused waves trying to always push the boat where you didn’t want it.
We had been travelling previously with the German boat “Relax” but leading up to the gulf they made the smart decision to delay for the winds to calm. We didn’t. We sailed through the 20-25knot winds gusting to 30. This added to the roughness and caused for some really hairy moments. On the plus, the strong winds meant we crossed in pretty good time 48.5hrs to cover roughly 330nm. Two nights at sea, doing it in 4 hour shifts at the helm on ‘watch’. By the end of it I was absolutely stuffed. I would be lucky to get 2 hours sleep each break, it was near impossible to sleep in the sweat box down below with no air flow, getting thrown about from the waves. Every time I would finally manage to fall asleep id be awoken with the sound of my name being yelled from Andre. Bloody hell, what this time? I’d rush up there, to find him dropping the motors bout to attempt a 360 to get us back on course while the gib sail would be flogging to death in the wind, ropes whipping everywhere making a hell of a racket. I’d have to try to grab one of these whipping ropes and hold it to prevent it from doing damage to the sail or the boat. Always at risk of it doing damage to me. Never easy when you’re fighting the force and might of the winds. These interruptions in every one of my breaks were starting to wear me down. Less sleep meant less patience meant greater annoyance every time this happened. I was starting to get really frustrated but I was strong willed not to show it and end up like Luke. “Just bloody stay at the helm for fucks sake” I would think to myself. Let me sleep.
I was doing 4 hours during the day and 8 hours at night. The 2am to 6am shifts being by far the hardest. No longer was I battling not to show my growing frustration with everyone I was just battling to simply stay awake. It can be kind of a scary thought if you think too hard on what your actually doing. We were in the middle of the ocean, miles from any help, sailing in near complete darkness with huge swell around us. Often, without warning, I’d have a rogue wave crash over the back deck of the boat drenching the floor and my feet in sea water just to remind me of the invisible danger out there surrounding me. It was best not to think about it and just have faith in whoever the bloody hell “Bob Oram” is, the boat designer, and hope he didn’t cut too many corners when he built this floating raft that my life now depended on.
Considering how big the ocean is, somehow the lights of another boat would always seem to appear on the horizon during one of my night shifts. What was more surprising was despite all the vacant sea surrounding the STNT they would always manage to get uncomfortably close. The half an hour or so after spotting a boat would be followed by a lot of second guessing trying to determine the boat’s course. Red is port yeah? And it’s on our starboard side, soooo it must be headed… Yep right in front of us. Great. Hmm it looks like it’s travelling faster than us so it should be passed before we get to it? I think. Maybe. Hopefully.
I always reassured myself that there must be someone in the cockpit of the other boat, with more experience, making the same calculations and seems they are not altering course then I guess I need not bother either. However there was one particular time, on my first night, when a massive freighter passed us on the starboard side a lot closer than I predicted. Still at a safe distance but the fact I could make out cabin lights as well as navigation lights probably meant it was a bit closer than necessary and didn’t leave much room for error. Whoops. After that heart racing close encounter I now will always alter course slightly to ensure I am well clear of those massive death traps.
For all the frustrating and sometimes slightly scary times, there was twice as many of those moments where I’d simply have a smile on my face thinking “wow, this is pretty amazing”. Once we anchored, I reminded myself of these moments and I knew after a good nights sleep all the frustration and fear at the situation would pass. It was all good, as long as I didn’t get roped into working the entire time, it would be fun and I would survive…
“How about a lay over tomorrow Ty? I think we’ve earnt it and there is a nice looking beach here”
“Yeah I’m keen on that Andre, it is a nice spot, good chance to catch up on some sleep and then maybe explore…”
“Hmm…” Not really listening. “We’ll beach the boat first thing, then we need to give the hull a really good scrub“
Oh. And by ‘we’ he meant me. Shit.
Video from crossing the gulf. The camera really does not do the size of waves justice. They were much bigger then they look. I swear I wasn’t just exaggerating for the sake of the story…